Intro to Food and Health – Week 1

Coursera has a pretty nifty setup with many of their online courses. You can purchase a certificate of completion for your LinkedIn page or for use on a resume, or, you can just take the free online courses. The courses themselves are structured into short video lectures (no more than 10 minutes, usually less) with infographs and a narrator. This course is narrated by Dr. Maya Adam, MD, who is both a doctor and a professor at Stanford.

Week 1 gave short introductions to different types of nutrients, how we generally see food and how it’s probably better to simply see food as food, instead of trying to break it down into particular nutrients that we need each day (I’m looking at you, macro-junkies). It’s not to say that any particular nutritional strategy is bad, save for restrictive diets that usually involving demonizing one kind of nutrient over others, BUT what was emphasized was that food in itself is so complicated that scientists are still studying how it fuels us, why balance is essential to a healthy diet, and how fad diets are absolutely not recommended for sustainable, long-term health.

My favorite tidbits of this week:

I learned a simple explanation for how carbohydrates, fats and proteins are processed in the body. What I found especially interesting was how different types of sugars (glucose, sucrose, fructose, etc) are processed and why some types aren’t recommended to be eaten regularly as opposed to others.

The 3 macro-nutrient concentration dates back to 1827, where William Prout was among one of the first English doctors to recognize fat (lipids) as an important nutrient. Apparently the development of nutritional science started in the 18th century, and I wrote my MA thesis about material culture in the 18th century so OF COURSE I was excited to read that.

There are 20 types of amino acids, and 9 of them are essential (meaning we have to get them from food).

Plant-based proteins aren’t “complete”, as in they don’t have as many amino acids as meat-based proteins BUT the benefits of replacing meat 1-2x per week with plant-based protein (so beans, lentils, stuff like that) far outweighs the potential negatives.

Needless to say, I’m enjoying the course so far. If there’s any other interesting bits I learn, I’ll probably tweet about it if it’s not enough to make a whole post about it. If you’re super interested, you should sign up for the course yourself! 

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